Physicians, nurses urge lawmakers to prioritize violence in hospitals

The American College of Emergency Physicians and the Emergency Nurses Association are calling for legislators to pass two bills that would address workplace violence and mental health access, according to a May 3 news release from the organizations.

The first bill, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, would direct OSHA to require healthcare and social service employers to develop and implement a workplace violence prevention plan. A fact sheet from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed healthcare and social service workers continue to face the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence of any industry. 

"I am an emergency physician and I have been a victim of both verbal assault and physical battery multiple times," James Phillips, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine and chief of disaster medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., told Congress. "I have been called unspeakable names, threatened with harm, branded a racist, manipulated by real-time threats of frivolous malpractice lawsuits, and threatened with false reporting to medical licensing boards; I've been chased through the ER and forced to hide behind a door. I've had someone spit in my face. Each of these incidents has been perpetrated by a different patient, and all have occurred just in 2023 alone. In the past, I have pressed charges against a patient who hit me in the face with a phone. Four years ago, I pressed charges against a patient who stated he planned to return to the ER to shoot me and his nurse. He got jail time. He wasn't even my patient."

The second bill, the Improving Mental Health Access from the Emergency Department Act, would create a competitive grant program for emergency departments to better connect mental health patients with appropriate resources in the community. It would also increase access to inpatient beds and alternative care settings.

"Passing these bills will provide much-needed resources to help prevent, mitigate and respond to workplace violence in healthcare settings," Dr. Phillips told lawmakers. "They will also send a clear message that violence against healthcare workers will not be tolerated. Lawmakers who support these bills can show that they understand the serious healthcare workforce crisis happening right now in America, and that action must be taken now to reduce the burnout we are all experiencing in order to slow the ongoing exodus from nursing and the practice of medicine."

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